We hear a lot these days about how our phones are affecting our relationships because we cannot seem to put them down for very long, even when we are in the presence of the most important people in our lives. Divided attention is certainly a phenomena that requires our awareness and setting of boundaries but it is only one aspect of our digital age that needs our attention.

The newest research suggests that our posture is actually changing to accommodate our phones. A quick scan of our surroundings whether at the office or the mall, reveals people hunching over their devices. These contortions actually have a name, according to New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August, it is the iHunch. Other names out there include text neck and even iPosture.

When August began treating patients more than 30 years ago, he says he saw plenty of “dowager’s humps, where the upper back had frozen in a forward curve, in grandmothers and great-grandmothers.” Now he says he is seeing the same stoop in teenagers. To put this in perspective, the average head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do when we use our phones, the effective stress on our necks increases to 60 pounds—the weight of 5 gallons of paint.

You might think big deal, if my kid gets a hunch back he’ll be the same as all his peers. But there is more at stake than physical deformity. When we are sad, we slouch. We also slouch when we feel scared or powerless. Studies have shown that people with clinical depression adopt a posture that eerily resembles the iHunch; necks bent forward, shoulders collapsed, and arms drawn in toward the body.

Posture is vital because it does not just reflect the emotional states; it can also causethem. In a study published in Health Psychology earlier this year, non-depressed participants were assigned to sit in an upright or slouched posture and then had them answer mock interview questions, a well-established experimental stress inducer, followed by a series of questionnaires. Compared with upright sitters, the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear. Posture affected even the contents of their interview answers: Linguistic analysis revealed that slouchers were much more negative in what they had to say. The researchers concluded, “Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.”

Slouching can also affect our awareness of our surroundings, creating a negative cognitive bias (remembering only the negative stuff). In a study published last year in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy of people with depression, participants were randomly assigned to sit either in a slouched or upright position and then were presented with a list of positive and negative words. When later asked to recall those words, the slouchers showed a negative recall bias (remembering the negative words more often than the positive words), while those who sat upright showed no such bias. So being hunched over a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, or desktop computer can actually limit your awareness of the good things happening around you during your day. Instead, your posture is relaying to your brain that something in your environment is sad or intimidating.

Other research has demonstrated that such a hunched posture actually changes our behavior. Study subjects were randomly assigned to interact for 5 minutes with one of four devices varying in size: a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop and a desktop computer. Researchers then looked at how long subjects would wait to ask the experimenter whether they could leave, after the study had clearly concluded. They found that the size of the device significantly affected whether subjects felt comfortable approaching the experimenter, suggesting that the slouchy collapsed position we take when using our phones actually makes us less assertive—-less likely to stand up for ourselves when the situation calls for it. In fact, there appears to be a linear relationship between the size of your device and the extent to which it affects you: the smaller the device, the more you must contract your body to use it, and the more shrunken and inward your posture, the more submissive you are likely to become.

Depression can consist of these very same characteristics: lower self-esteem and mood, anxiety or fear, a tendency to focus on only the negative things in our life, and a sense of feeling powerless or helpless. Remember, your physical posture sculpts your psychological posture. Limiting your time with your technology could be the simplest answer for you if you sense depression/anxiety is a recurring theme for you. If you or your children typically spend hours a day with their devices, a careful limiting of tech-time could literally transform your family time! You could see a dramatic shift in the positivity of your teenager’s mood and willingness to try new things. Their confidence with their peers and teachers could shoot up and perhaps even their grades, as their recall is expanded. Experiment with this on your own. A more consistent sense of well-being could await you this year.

*Much of this information first appeared in “Your iPhone is Ruining Your Posture—And Your Mood”by Amy Cuddy in The New York Times/Opinion, Dec. 12, 2015

Posted by Lee Ann

Hi, I'm Lee Ann, an extrovert; perpetual learner; book collector; Jesus-follower; A “doer” in recovery; Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Greater Denver, CO

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